Youth center in Merced gets face-lift, opens next month

McNamara Park Youth Center received upgrades to its carpet, walls and kitchen, among other improvements. The city of Merced paid for work inside the building, but a group of nonprofits will run the center on its own dime.

With fresh paint, new carpeting and an alarm system, among other upgrades, the McNamara Park Youth Center is expected to reopen next month with recreational activities and tutoring programs for young people in Merced.

The nonprofits that will run the center plan a ribbon-cutting ceremony and other events from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday to celebrate the reopening of the building, which has been closed for years, at the 1040 Canal St. park.

“Our target, aim and goal is to make this a safe place for youth after school,” said Rachelle Abril, a co-founder and director of Mentoring Odd Jobs Organization.

In October, the city of Merced agreed to pay for $16,500 in upgrades, which included the paint job, new carpet, kitchen cabinets, an alarm system and changes that brought the building into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The three-year contract to staff the building with volunteers was awarded to a coalition of nonprofits: Symple Equazion, Lifeline CDC, Mentoring Odd Jobs Organization, Potter’s Place and Merced Calvary Assembly of God, also called the Isaiah Project.

Abril said she’s heard positive feedback from community members who have heard about the center’s return. “People are like, ‘That’s all Merced needed was a group to come in and support youth and give them something fun to do,’” she said.

The 8.7-acre park has basketball courts and a large, grassy field that will be open to youngsters who visit the center.

The city has agreed to pay an estimated $7,500 for utilities. So the staff has agreed to open the building from 3 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

In recent years, there has been a clamoring in the community for more funding for recreation and job-skills training for young people, who might otherwise turns to gangs or find other negative ways to spend their time.

Leaders from area nonprofits, including Abril, Symple Equazion founder Kelly Turner and others, have been at the forefront of that push.

Rachelle Abril, right, and Kelly Turner talk about the upgrades to the kitchen inside the McNamara Park Youth Center.

Along with sports and games, organizers for the center said they plan to offer snacks for hungry youngsters and tutoring for all ages. Though initially they are aiming at 11-year-olds and older, they said, there are no plans to turn away any children. They said they expect to invite younger children as use of the center expands.

Turner said Merced City Council and city staff have been supportive of the plans for the center. “I’m extremely grateful,” she said. “But at the same time, there is a little worry there because of finances. How are we going to meet all the needs?”

The center’s organizers have said they hope to get more volunteers from the surrounding community to help staff the building as attendance grows. Many of the furniture items, including a refrigerator, computers and chairs, have been donated from groups in the Merced area.

Organizers said they plan to look for money to run the center through grants, donations and fundraisers.

“I can’t stress enough how much we need the community’s and invested stakeholders’ involvement,” she said. “We cannot do this alone, nor do we want to do this alone.”

The nonprofits plan to officially open the doors to the center on Jan. 10.